The chemistry of the gas helmet

After a period training at Kinmel Park in Wales, studying such matters as the workings of the gas helmet issued to troops, Percy Spencer wrote to sister Florence Image with good news.

Aug 10, 1917
My dear WF

Thanks to John my address is
Cadet P J Spencer
B Company
No. 5 Officer Cadet Battalion
Trinity College
Cambridge

All the bad men from Kinmel are here too, so at any rate I feel I shall have a moral advantage.

I’ve just been trying to get the rules and regulations into my head. Luckily I realised early that it couldn’t be done and gave it up….

You are quite right about Kinmel. I was awfully well and jolly there, and look and feel very fit. Even the lectures were entertaining, no matter how dry. For instance one lecturer (a schoolmaster before the war) taking us in musketry, and looking very brainy, explained (in fact he was so pleased with the idea, he explained it twice) that “an explosion is the immediate or spontaneous transition of a solid into a gas. Q.E.D., which those of you who have studied Euclid will know means Quod erat dictum!!!”

We also had some very interesting lectures on the gas or PH ‘Elmet. Really they were not so much lectures on the helmet as they were upon methods of dodging learned recruits. If I am unlucky enough to get hold of some recruit who evinces a knowledge of chemistry, I am to switch off on to the mechanism of the helmet, of which he’ll probably be ignorant, and vice versa. Presumably if one is unlucky enough to be landed with a recruit who knows both the mechanism & the chemistry of the helmet there is nothing to be done but to lead him gently to the gas chamber….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/6/62-64)

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Beer and bottled water to be in short supply

Sydney Spencer underwent training in gas exposure, while Florence Vansittart Neale was shocked by the amount of items to be restricted.

Sydney Spencer of Cookham
Feb 22

I go through chlorine gas for first time (in a P.H. helmet).

Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey
22 February 1917

Large contingent of nurses & MOs from Cliveden. Saw everything & had tea in hall. Came at 3, left 5.30….

Good speech by E. Carson on submarine menace – very serious, but hope it will get [illegible].

Importations of timber, apples, tomatoes, raw fruits, tea, restricted, meat, paper, wines, silks, only 10,000,000 barrels of beer – spirits also restricted, aerated water and table water.

Diaries of Sydney Spencer of Cookham (D/EX801/12); and Florence Vansittart Neale of Bisham Abbey (D/EX73/3/17/8)

“The Huns threw a lot of shells about” – and gassed one of their own men

Percy Spencer wrote to his sister Florence with his latest news. This letter, which is, unusually for Percy, typed, is badly torn and parts are missing. He had been gassed, and met an old friend.

30/9/16

Life is such a harassing affair nowadays that I [never see]m to have both the time and the humour to write you … lines, but if I don’t soon send you a letter I [shall for]get altogether how to write one, so here we are, and … excuse the type.

This pushing business is business, but it’s very […] I can assure you. However, the Huns are absolutely […] and very much on the wobble, and I still hope for [the s]udden collapse I feel sure will be the end of this …

Since writing to you last I have added the experience of being lachrymatory [tear] gassed. It was jolly. [Every]one scrambling for helmets and goggles and crying […], the gas seeming to have caused an inflammation which [was] very much aggravated when one closed one’s eyes. At […] the enemy, and I had the pleasure of getting out […]ration orders wearing a gas helmet and goggles. We [wer]e a remarkable assembly – you couldn’t tell t’other from [whi]ch, and when I had finished at my typewriter I was surprised to find that the man at my elbow crowded on the dug-out steps was a German officer prisoner we had captured. It was rather a joke for this fellow to be brought in and suddenly hoist by his own petard, so to speak.

Since then we have had a “rest” – quite an eventful one, for on one occasion I spent a few thrilling minutes watching parachute descents from kite balloons and on another, after tea, lying out in the sunshine, suddenly I espied a splendid fox wending its way amongst some […] trenches and taking cover in the wire entanglement […] rank grass. We chivvied it out and had a small fox [hole?] all on our own.

The night we came out and went into rest we had […] welcome – the Huns threw a lot of shells about and […] knocked down the house opposite us. That’s the second time they’ve done that – it’s most inconsiderate.

By the way I’ve been looking out for Jack Jackson for a long time. He was wounded at LOOS and I imagine he […] long come out again. Anyway a short time ago toward the end of a pretty big do, I was going up in a Staff car [and] just as I was stepping in, who should go by but Jack. [We] only had time for a handshake, and then on he went up […] the line and I to the comparative safety of a dug-out. I hope he came through all right as the main part of that […] bump so far as his Brigade was concerned was then over.

If you could send me some gloves I should be glad.

I am now transferred to the A.S.C. but have no number at present. My pay is 3/6d per day as from Mar. 9th. You might make a note of this. I was sorry to transfer, but had to….

Yours ever
Percy

Letter from Percy Spencer (D/EZ177/7/5/30)